Sunday, August 3, 2008

Getting up to watch the rocket

So Erica and I had C & J over for dinner tonight. The time was wonderful, we really haven't had the chance to just hang out with them without a care or a deadline (and with everyone relatively well rested and healthy) in a very, very long time.

Tonight was also the night of Elon Munsk's third attempt to get one of his potentially revolutionary Falcon 1 rockets into space. Unfortunately, it did not go as planned. But this is not (yet) to be a speculation into the causes for the failure of the Falcon launch (though, and this won't surprise you, I've got theories). It is about hanging out with people that let you feel totally comfortable just being yourself.

Within fifteen minutes of arriving, with two bottles of liquor, a dozen lemons and limes, and a few crucial culinary ingredients with them, they knew that for at least the first part of the party I was going to Be Distracted. Which is code for pinging my various space chat pages and probably watching the SpaceX webcast when things actually looked ready to go.

index.php.jpegAnd, right as you'd expect, just as dinner was served, they hit the classic T-minus-ten point over in Kwajelan. So I wandered outside with the MacBook and reported on the update -- that the thing had shut itself down on the pad. C & J were happy to let me fill them in on they brief history of SpaceX and why this was sort of a big deal -- why I felt that if any of the crew was going to do it, it was Elon. A little blend of damn-the-torpedos, a little bit of willingness to take it on the chin and admit the hubris of their first vision.

By the time we were done eating and clearing the dishes in from outside (a nice day -- we thought we'd capitalize on it and dine al-fresco) they were ready to go again. We all gathered and watched the liftoff on my laptop. Things looked good. We remarked on the view. I remarked on the little bump in the steering as they passed through Mach 1. J. asked what that meant, I explained briefly. Someone commented on the now-much-discussed-roll oscillations. I said that it was moving about a bit, not like an Atlas or Delta that is as stable as a brick. But it seemed constant.

Then when the feed went dead and the very startled commentators came back to announce the dreaded words of "an anomaly" and the credits rolled. We all figured out what must have happened. Erica very graciously agreed to put Bella to bed and we finished clearing the dishes, I made another round of (very strong and very good) Margaritas.

Juice from one freshly squeezed lime
1 ounce orange liquor
2 ounces good tequila

Place in a glass with ice and stir. Salt rim (or sugar rim) is optional.

images.jpegWe settled in to play the very fun German style game "Settlers of Catan" that we had recently purchased. Erica went on to win both rounds -- though Colin gave her a good run for her money on the first one and I did a passable job of chasing on the second and might have come closer if Colin hadn't made a trade with Erica that basically gave her the game. But it was 1:20 and we were all tired. What was great was hanging out until that late with my favorite people playing a great game and having a lot of really good laughs.

But what this post really is about is about choosing the people that you tend to spend these times with. I don't have a lot of friends. Despite my gregarious teacher personality I keep a small circle of people around that I actually enjoy spending my precious off time with. And last night I realized a characteristic of these people that, when I am around them, I feel completely comfortable just being myself. Which often means being eccentric and obsessed with slightly odd things. They even join you, sometimes, and share in the emotion of events outside their personal scopes of interest. They listen and they understand.

Years ago we were out for a walk around Edmonds with these same friends. We'd stopped for coffee (and snacks) at a little independent coffee house not too far from the train tracks. We heard the whistle of an approaching train and I said, sort of without thinking about it "the train!"

J. looked at me and said, very seriously, "Nick, would you like to go outside and watch the train?"

That was a defining moment in our friendship. It was OK for me to enjoy watching trains go by. It was OK for me to care about things that might seem slightly odd.

I don't have a lot of friends that I put in this category -- but then again I don't have a lot of friends. And it isn't like I suddenly meet someone new and suddenly am pulling out my laptop at inappropriate times to surf the web. There is a boundary between politeness and geekiness, after all. But once I get to know someone, comfort being myself is what I look for -- and that's what I'm glad I've found!

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